Many folks have the expectation that every single fruit and vegetable should be readily available throughout the year, no matter where it comes from or how long it takes to get to the grocery store. Strawberries, squash, asparagus, spinach – doesn’t matter if it’s summer or fall, if it’s on our list it simply must be had. The supermarket has knows no seasons!
At the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, we wholeheartedly believe in consuming what’s local and in season. This is better for the soil, the environment and all of us who live on the planet – but it also leads to an unparalleled joy and specialness to eating. Yes, some produce is fleeting – but doesn’t the short time span of bing cherries or apricots or wild garlic compel you to savor and celebrate them while they’re available?
And here enters wild leeks. Also known as ramps, this lovely vegetable is a member of allium family and it makes its appearance in early spring. We take full advantage of their rarity, hustling to use them in a wide variety of ways before they’re all gone. As we’re in wild leek season, we wanted to share with you why we love them oh-so-much and how you can experience their magic in your very own kitchen.
Identifying Wild Leeks
Wild leeks are the first vegetable to pop up through the soil in the spring, a sign that your days of devouring root vegetables and apples are coming to an end.
Wild leeks taste like a cross between onions and garlic with an extra bit of sweetness thrown in for good measure. They kinda look similar to a large scallion/green onion, but with larger, broader leaves that will remind you of a traditional leek – except instead of being tightly bound, a wild leek’s leaves stretch open.
Why We Love Them
- They are the first to show up before any other spring vegetable.
- They are chock full of nutrients that our bodies need to cleanse ourselves after a long winter.
- They’re part of the allium family which includes leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, scallions and chives.
- They are rich in sulfurous compounds, which help us detoxify and offer us anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
- They are high in a nutrient called quercetin – an antioxidant that acts as an anti-histamine, protecting us from allergies, hay fever and asthma.
Plus, if you’re not a huge fan of the strong, pungent flavours of onions and garlic, wild leeks are a milder alternative, making them the perfect option for sensitive palates or little kiddos.
Where do you find them?
Wild leeks can be found in forests here in Canada, and in the upper Midwest, mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States.
But here’s the thing: you need to be careful about plucking them from the ground, because they have been over-harvested in recent years and we don’t want them to disappear. Wild leeks are slow to grow, and can take about two years to fully mature. So be responsible when harvesting them – only take a few and pluck from the leaves if you can, so the bulbs can remain in the ground to breed. If you’re taking the entire bulb, be sure to harvest from different areas so your foraging is sustainable.
How to use wild leeks
Wild leeks can be enjoyed raw, pickled or cooked. They’re the perfect addition to a spring salad, you can use them in soups, pestos and stir-fries, or you can dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. Basically, anywhere you’d use shallots or scallions, you could easily sub a wild leek instead!
Awesome Wild Leek Recipes
Leek Immune Soup
This vegan soup also has the immune-boosting power of shiitake mushrooms and another anti-inflammatory ingredient: nettles! Get the recipe.
Five Ways to Preserve and Enjoy Wild Leeks
Looking for some more wild leek inspiration? In this post, you’ll find five fabulous ways to use ’em, along with five healthy recipes to boot. Get the recipes.
Wild Leek Powder
From Well Preserved.ca
Dehydrate your wild leeks and what you’re left with is a beautifully flavourful seasoning that you can use in a variety of your favourite dishes. Get the recipe.
Spring Green Skillet
From Charlotte Au Chocolate
We are big fans around here of one pot meals that are full, flavourful and mix in loads of texture and flavours. This one here is a total winner. Get the recipe.
Wild Leek-Infused Vinegar
From Well Preserved.ca
Ever thought about adding a sweet and onion-y punch to your vinegar? This wild leek-infused vinegar is a breeze – simply slice the ends and pop them in a vinegar bottle, and then wait for the goodness to seep through. Get the recipe.
Savory Steel Cut Oats with Ramps
Ever thought of adding wild leeks to a bowl of oatmeal? You should! Savory oatmeals are the best – and this beautiful recipe is just another way to enjoy wild leeks while they last. Get the recipe.
Wild and Wonderful Ramp Chowder
From Health Starts In The Kitchen
This chowder takes wild leeks to the next level – and there is a dairy-free option here, too, which we love! Get the recipe.